BY KUNLE SOLAJA
The often recalled continental match involving Shooting Stars of Ibadan is their 1984 encounter with Zamalek of Egypt. Well, the match etched its self into history.
But before then, there was even a more memorable encounter of both teams. It is 45 years today since that match.
As most football followers will agree, matches do not necessarily have to be cliff-hangers to be ranked as memorable.
Neither do encounters have to offer high individual skills or spectacular teamwork.
Matches are remembered for various reasons. Some matches became spectacular as teams put up courageous performances against heavy odds or sprang back from the brink of glaring defeats.
The 2 October 1976 IICC Shooting Stars – Zamalek match fall in this category. Zamalek had won the first leg 2-0, which the then IICC could not cancel until six minutes to the end of the return leg match.
That was the match that converted me to a Shooting Stars supporter. As a teenager growing up in the sprawling ancient city of Ibadan, I was not particularly a keen follower of IICC.
Perhaps it was because some of the players , especially those of Ghanaian descent were living in the same neighbourhood with me.
I saw them daily and were therefore just too common for me to attach any element of importance, let alone greatness to them.
I found stars in the players of Mighty Jets, a flamboyant club at the time and I got attracted to them. But they soon faded out. The rampaging Enugu Rangers caught my fancy with their performances at the 1975 African Cup of Champion Clubs.
So in the 1975 Challenge Cup semi finals that paired Mighty Jets with the IICC, my favoured club was the former. After all, they paraded my favourite players like Sam Garba, Olayiwola Olagbenro, Ismaila Mabo, the Atuegbu brothers, Baba Otu Mohammed, Gabriel Babalola, Sule Kekere among others. I never gave the ‘local’ boys in my neighbourhood any chance of survival.
I considered it a major upset when IICC scaled the hurdle into the final to face Enugu Rangers, my team of the moment.
I expected a complete annihilation. Rangers have had continental experience and, almost with religious devotion, I was following their exploits. To my surprise, Shooting Stars put up a spectacular performance and almost won the Challenge Cup.
So by virtue of being runners-up to Rangers who had also picked the ticket for the more prestigious Cup of Champion Clubs, IICC were registered in the second-tier African Winners Cup which was in its second edition in 1976.
I saw them as mere participants even after achieving a double against Kenya Breweries in the opening round.
There was a sort of justification of my views when they barely beat Zambia’s Rokana United 3-2 in Lagos in the first leg of the next round. But against all odds, they survived the return leg with a 1-1 draw in Ndola.
Significantly, it was from Zambia that emerging football legend, Segun Odegbami was drafted into the Olympic Games-bound national team. The NFA had to crop his passport photograph from newspaper cuttings to fill his accreditation form.
Jide Dina was dropped for the new discovery, Odegbami. Yet, IICC had no place in my heart. Being at home in September 1976, awaiting my WASC result, I had ample time to begin to get informed about the club.
At the time, they had lost 0-2 to Zamalek in Cairo. In the first leg match on Friday 24 September 1976, Shooting Stars with their array of young talents like Muda Lawal, Segun Odegbami, Kunle Awesu, Philip Boamah, Best Ogedegbe among others were more than intimidated by the large and cheering crowd at the Cairo Stadium.
After holding on grimly for 75 minutes, a tightly knit defence suddenly crashed under a 10-minute blitz and conceded two goals by Zamalek’s Wahid Kamel which gave the home team a 2-0.
Perhaps the tally could have been more but for the agility of Goalkeeper Best Ogedegbe who had been thrown into the international assignment, owing to the injury sustained by first choice goalkeeper, Zion Ogunfehinmi.
The eventual scoreline was enough to paint a picture of gloom for the Shooting Stars despite their putting up brilliant performance. They fell to the antics of the capacity Cairo crowd who continuously whistled, causing confusion to the Shooting Stars players
In Ibadan, the atmosphere during the week preceding the return leg was very electrifying. On daily basis, radio and TV jingles on the ‘big match’ filled the airwaves.
Every one seemed to believe that Shooting Stars were going to turn the table. “How can?”, I silently asked myself. Anyway, seeing is believing.
I was part of the enthusiastic crowd that besieged the then Liberty Stadium on 2 October 1976.
The tension was very palpable. Before noon, the stadium had already been filled up.
Months, before then, the old Western State of which Ibadan was the capital had been divided into three – Oyo, Ogun and Ondo.
The three state governors – Colonel David Jemibewon of Oyo State, Lt. Colonel Saidu Ayodele Balogun and Wing Commander Ita David Ikpeme of Ondo State – were among the capacity crowd at the match venue.
The match was fixed to kick off at 3pm in the afternoon so that the weather would have effect on the Egyptians.
Alas! An early morning rain ensured that the weather was cool. All the same, the atmosphere was frenzied. Amid rhythmic sensation of talking drums and other musical instruments, the game kicked off.
The dream of early goal did not materialise despite Shooting Stars opening the game with ferocious attack.
Zamalek were forced to concede a corner kick within two minutes of kick off. In the first 15 minutes, the visitors had conceded five corner kicks as Kunle Awesu on the left flank and Philip Boamah from the right, created a lot of opportunities for Segun Odegbami and Moses Otolorin in the central position to connect.
They piled pressure upon pressure, but the Egyptians were able to absorb all. Goalkeeper Adel El-Maamour was particularly very outstanding, making saves after saves.
At a point, it appeared the ball would never get past him. Hassan Shahetan also fell back to help the defence as the anxious crowd was kept on the edge.
Otolorin and Odegbami’s sizzlers either hit the post or got blocked by the defenders. The agony increased as the minutes ticked away.
The pressure was intense and the misses were many and also very painful. After the half time, with goals refusing to come, it appeared the Shooting Stars were on a ‘mission impossible’.
The crowd at the stadium was getting frustrated. So also it appeared the Shooting Stars’ players too.
At half time, Skipper Samuel Ojebode reportedly broke down in tears in the dressing room and had to be psyched up by Governor David Jemibewon.
In the second half, the crowd cheers had given way to deafening silence. The match seemed to be heading for a scoreless draw and an elimination of Shooting Stars.
There was even a terrible fright mid way into the second half when a Zamalek striker almost scored.
But barely 15 minutes to the end, just as it happened for the Egyptians in the first leg, Skipper Ojebode, overlapping from the left steered the ball past two defenders, floated the ball into the Egyptian penalty box.
Odegbami took a great leap to nod the ball past Goalkeeper Adel El-Maamour. Even Mahmoud El-Gohary’s last ditch effort to retrieve the ball failed. Shooting Stars were a goal up!
There was renewed vigour in the attack. The stars were all over the field looking for the important second goal. Then six minutes to end the match, Otolorin volleyed in from a goal mouth scramble for the second goal.
The crowd went wild with joy. The game then went into penalty shoot-out, the very first in an international match in Nigeria.
Ojebode, Otolorin, Odegbami, Idowu Otubusin and Ogedegbe all took the kicks successfully for Shooting Stars.
After three kicks, the pendulum was already swinging in Shooting Stars’ favour as they converted all, while Zamalek had lost one.
Otubusin took the fourth kick which Adel El-Maamour made spirited efforts to stop, but it slipped off his hands into the net.
He was in agony. Goalkeeper Best Ogedegbe took the decisive kick to give the Shooting Stars a 5-3 win by penalties!